An article published by The New York Times last week highlights the recent increased popularity of social media in the Arab World and how it is beginning to change advertising. As the article states, “the use of social media exploded during the Arab Spring as people turned to cyberspace to express themselves. On the back of that, social media networks, including Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, have moved in to the region commercially, setting up offices to sell advertising products to companies like Mobily, which has over 200,000 Twitter followers, to capitalize on the growing audience.” Mobily is Saudi Arabia’s second Telecommunications company.
Muna AbuSulayman, a Saudi development consultant and popular television talk show host (who has over 100,000 followers on twitter) said “social media gets everyone talking to everyone, which is something we just don’t have in the streets here… It’s a unique opportunity that lets people have conversations in a boundary-less way that wasn’t possible before.” In the past year alone, the number of Twitter users in the Arab world tripled, according to Shailesh Rao, Twitter’s vice president for international operations. Arabic is also now the fastest-growing language on the Twitter platform. On Facebook, the number of Arab users has nearly tripled in two years according to a report on Arab social media by the Dubai School of Government. Similarly, “LinkedIn, a professional social networking and job search site with five million Arab users, started advertising services in the Middle East in October, after identifying the region as one of its fastest-growing. The site sees tremendous potential in the region’s combination of rising Internet use, one of the highest youth unemployment rates in the world, and a characteristically young demography with 40 percent of the region’s 380 million population under 30 years old.”
So, in addition to promoting social and political discussion, social media carries a powerful economic incentive for businesses as well. Digital advertising in the Middle East and North Africa presently account for only 4% of the regions advertising spending but is projected to grow 35% every year for the next three years, generating around $580 million across the region by 2015. This article articulates not only how social media use has exploded in the Arab World but the advertising, marketing, and economic opportunities it yields.